Why some Democrats are frustrated with Joe Biden

For Brett Bruen, a former White House official, the current US president has failed to rise to the occasion following recent and consequential national events.

From a series of deadly mass shootings to Supreme Court rulings including the overturning of Roe v. Wade, or startling revelations from the January 6 hearings, Joe Biden should have offered more aggressive and solid responses, he says.

« What we got, quite frankly, was a series of pretty unsatisfactory superficial statements and gestures, » Bruen, who served as Barack Obama’s director of global engagement from 2013 to 2015, told CBC News.

« I think a lot of Democrats feel like the time for superficial stuff is long gone. We need to take control of these issues and really drive change. »

Bruen is certainly not the only Democrat to express such frustrations.

« I think [Biden] must give voice to the emergency, » said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon. « He’s not using the bully pulpit effectively. »

Biden is awarding the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to Wilma Vaught during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House this week. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)

With a slim Democratic majority in the House and even slimmer in the Senate, Biden may not be able to do much legislatively on some of Democrats’ most vexing issues.

But Bruen says Biden needs to « really push the debate, whether it’s through his travels, through his events, through his personal engagement on some of these things. I just don’t see the White House being smart and strategically focused. «

Other Democrats have also claimed the White House is « rudderless, aimless and hopeless » and that some party members have grown impatient.

Meanwhile, a recent play in Atlantic titled Is Biden a Man Out of Time?, written by veteran political journalist Ronald Brownstein, says that many Democrats believe that, on a number of issues, « Biden and his team followed, not led. »

And it has sparked « lingering chatter » over whether he should run again in 2024.

“Democratic concern about the White House … is palpable,” Michael D. Shear, a longtime White House reporter for The New York Times, told the newspaper in a recent interview.

Frightened children flee a building, guided by police officers.
Children run to safety after escaping from a window during a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. (Pete Luna/Uvalde Leader-News/Reuters)

« The main problem seems to be a performative problem. Democrats want Biden to appear tougher, more engaged and more in the moment, » he said.

Shear said it was « striking » that in a week with so many major issues – Roe vs. Wade, inflation, recession fears, mass shootings – you wouldn’t have known it from the President’s agenda, when instead he awarded medals and gave a speech on pensions.

All of this comes as Biden’s poll numbers continue to fall. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found that only 36% of Americans approved of the president’s handling of his job, the lowest level of his presidency.

But Biden’s support within his own party has dwindled somewhat — just 69% of Democrats polled approved of his performance, down from around 85% in August.

Of the many issues facing the White House, perhaps Democrats’ greatest frustration has been the White House’s response to the reversal of Roe v. Wade.

Some wanted a more aggressive response. For example, shortly after the decision, the senses. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Tina Smith of Minnesota urged Biden to declare a public health emergency.

Women demonstrate in a street waving pro-choice signs.
Pro-choice activists demonstrate outside the U.S. Supreme Court moments after Roe v. Wade. Biden signed executive orders on Friday that would make abortion pills easier to access. (Mark Gollom/CBC)

« Use the Bully’s Pulpit »

When Biden voiced support for an exception to the 60-vote filibuster rule to codify abortion rights, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted approvingly: « It’s time that people see a real forceful push in this direction. Use the bully pulpit. We need more.

On Friday, Biden signed executive orders to expand access to abortion drugs. Some welcomed it as a first step, but others complained that Biden should have prepared those orders the day after the decision, Bannon says.

The five weeks between the opinion leak Roe v. Wade and the actual decision have been a long time for the Biden administration to respond, he said.

« But they didn’t. And I think that’s what created a lot of discontent among progressive Democrats, » he said.

But Bruen, who considers himself a moderate Democrat, says he thinks frustration with Biden is a « shared concern across the party. »

« It comes down to messaging and the messaging from this White House hasn’t been particularly strong, » he said.

« The Democrats are looking to the President to establish – what is their argument on this issue? The White House needs to do a better job of this. They also need to do a better job of trying to bundle these issues together. »

Jim Kessler, Democratic strategist and executive vice president for policy at center-left think tank Third Way, said Biden could do a better job of giving Americans optimism.

In 1982, when the United States was facing high unemployment, President Ronald Reagan managed to « sell the destination, » Kessler said.

« He basically said, ‘We’re going to get through this. We are going to have strong growth, but the growth will be shared by everyone across America. Be with me. Stay the course. And I think Biden could do a better job of selling the destination of a prosperous, free, and growing nation. »

He agrees that there have been a few escapes in the White House and that the administration has been slow to tackle inflation and realize that it is more than a transitory problem.

But Kessler says there are « a lot of dispirited Democrats » upset by events unrelated to the president, including Supreme Court rulings that strengthened gun rights but took away abortion rights. . And he suggests that some of the criticism is unwarranted.

« We had a mass shooting on the 4th of July. And some people were saying, ‘The president must have been angrier.’ This is ridiculous. The president has been very angry for a year and a half, » he said. declared.

‘The dumbest, dumbest thing’

Brian Doory, Democratic strategist and chief executive of Scarlet Oak Strategies, a public affairs firm, agrees there’s frustration among some Democrats, but says much of it is misplaced.

« I think the obstruction on the other side just didn’t allow [Biden] to move the ball around as much as he wants, » he said. « The frustration should be directed at Trump and his supporters and I think all the Republicans who have basically followed suit should work with the Democrats to no level. »

Democratic strategist Kevin Walling says Democrats have a bad habit of ditching their leader when their poll numbers drop.

« When Donald Trump was down…Republicans rallied around President Trump and the flag. And I think us Democrats, a lot of times when we see a decline in popularity among our president, we wring our hands, we give up the president, » he said.

With a midterm election on the horizon, Democrats running for office who shun the president and his record do so at their peril, Walling said.

Walling referred to Democratic candidates from Ohio who did not meet Biden during his recent visit to Cleveland.

« It’s the dumbest thing you can do, » he said. « It’s stupid to run away from the president and the party leader, especially when Air Force One is coming to town at this local community airfield. It’s huge. »

« My advice to every Democrat is to follow this president because it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you don’t support him, you’re going to see those numbers keep going down. »

Still, Bannon agrees that there have been rumors of a leadership change for 2024, but that it would be very difficult for a Democrat to bring down Biden if he wants to run for re-election.

« There are disgruntled Democrats. But most Democrats, primary Democrats, still support Joe Biden. I don’t see anyone seriously preparing to run for president. »


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